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Beyond Meat and Potatoes: At owner Roya Moosave's Yas restaurant, entrees are accompanied by basmati rice, grilled tomatoes and lemon wedges.

Breezy Attitude

Wholesome flavors and simple presentation make the fare at Yas a breath of fresh air

By Joseph Izzo Jr.

IT WAS JUST ABOUT THE TIME that our entrees arrived when the memories hit. We were dining at Yas, a Persian restaurant in San Jose. The aromas coming from the dishes laid at our table triggered memories of the early '70s for me, a time when ethnic food around the South Bay still meant spaghetti and meatballs. Original Joe's was the Taj Mahal.

The only Persian restaurant in the area back then was an eatery over by San Jose State called Manssur's. My partners and I were just cutting our teeth on restaurant reviewing and hence found the place so exotic that one step through the beaded entrance brought visions of flying carpets and dragons with ruby scales. But that was a long time ago.

Since then, Persian restaurants have proliferated around the South Bay. Many doors are opened now. Some are good, some not so good, some built around the fast-food concept, others with not a clue about why they're in business. Among the best I've sampled so far is Yas--short for jasmine, which means garden.

The blue and white of its exterior stands out like a billowing sail along Saratoga Avenue. It's a refreshing sight that seems to send a cool breeze through the car window--open or not. This look of tranquil beauty carries into the interior, where so much has been accomplished with so very little. My hat goes off to those who designed this place. To the eye comes a vision of quiet, simple elegance developed by effective use of mirrors and glass, fresh flowers (in strategic places), striking white paint with peach accents, and a handful of colorful plates and bowls.

Yas is very small, but the mirrors bring relief with an illusion of spaciousness. Even though the place was jammed the night we came, we had a sense of room, and plenty of it to spare. We were very comfortable at our linen-covered table that accommodated multiple dishes and six roving elbows. All the other diners seemed at ease too, happy and comfortable at their places. A family atmosphere prevailed. There was noise and laughter, but surprisingly none of it grating or intolerable in such close quarters.

My first trip to Yas was a solo visit. I was more curious than hungry at the time, curious about what happened to Teasara, the Persian restaurant that used to occupy this location. When the food came, I forgot about the past and those lazy days sipping tea over idle chatter in the place of old. What eventually came to the table was a glorious example of Persian cooking at its best: broiled chicken kebab, saffron rice and grilled tomatoes.

This visit we enjoyed a more expanded feast, beginning with an appetizer of sabzi khordan ($3.50), or sprigs of mint, Persian basil and parsley with walnuts and feta cheese. On its heels came two other appetizers, kashke bademjan ($5.95), eggplant puree with herbs and yogurt, and salad Shirazi ($3.50), made with minced cucumber, tomato and onions in a lemon and olive oil dressing. We spooned all three onto pieces of light unleavened bread that brought to the palate a melange of flavors that was clean and minty, rich and spicy all at once.

What I like so much about Persian cuisine is its healthy, wholesome nature, its uncomplicated cooking method and simple presentation. Nothing we had at Yas was greasy, overworked or forced into submission. Flavors were clean and natural from beginning to end.

Entrees offered further evidence of this healthy brand of ethnic cooking. I asked for a taste of all four specialties--shish kebab (filet mignon, $14.95), joojeh (chicken, $8.95), bareh (lamb, $14.95) and koobedeh (ground meat, $8.95)--and received what I requested. A customized platter arrived with the four meats, which had been cooked over an open fire and arranged in concentric rows with grilled tomatoes at one end, fresh lemon wedges at the other. As is the rule with Persian cooking, flavors are based on natural juices and not altered or camouflaged by paralyzing spices or leaden sauces. A squeeze of fresh lemon was all we needed to augment the taste.

Alongside came mounds of tender basmati rice blended with saffron and barberry--tangy berries similar to currants. Again, we wrapped pieces of meat and rice in folds of unleavened bread and popped these morsels into our mouths. As we did so, we discussed how light everything was and how we felt well fed but not full, although we'd eaten a lot. Contemplating the food eventually led us to a more lofty discussion about the origins of the Arabian Nights.

In addition, we sampled one of the chef's specials, composed of eggplant and lentils, slow-cooked as a stew in tangy Persian seasonings. We asked for more bread at this point, which we utilized as a form of utensil to scoop up the goods.

Saffron gold ice cream ($3)--blooming with rose water and sprinkled with crispy rice noodles--capped the evening. It came with cruets of sour cherry juice and lemon juice which we were instructed to use as enhancements. We did as we were told and reaped rewards. We also had a plate of Persian pastries ($3), sweet and sticky with honey and rose water. Strong Persian tea is a must with these delicacies.

Meager selections of both wine and beer are offered. We had glasses of Kendall Jackson chardonnay that pleased, but did not woo. For something more traditional, try a glass of doogh, a chilled, milky drink based on yogurt.

The waitresses at Yas are sweet-natured women who pamper all their guests with the kind of graciousness and warmth you receive in the home. We felt truly welcomed and cared for in their competent, loving hands. Even with all of our requests, our table was managed with precision, plates dealt and shuffled without error.

Diners seeking something different, but not so different as to challenge the limits of one's taste buds, should try Persian cuisine--more especially, the food at Yas. Simple cooking techniques, impeccable freshness and warm service are amenities few restaurants can offer in such a straight line. Next time you pass this billowing sail on Saratoga Avenue, crack the window and let the sea breeze inside. Better yet, stop and grab a kebab, then open your eyes.

Address: 1138 Saratoga Ave., San Jose
Phone: 408.241.5115
Hours: Daily 11am-9pm (until 10pm Fri.-Sat.)
Price Range: $5.50-$14.95
Cuisine: Flame-broiled kebabs and other Persian delights

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From the June 1-7, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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